— Wildfire burning in Kootenai National Forest estimated at 1,400 acres
— Residences evacuating; emergency shelter established
— Road, forest closures in effect in Ten Lakes Scenic Area
Updated: Aug. 8, 3:50 p.m.
EUREKA — Residents in the forested outskirts near Mount Gibralter are on high alert and some have fled their homes as a large wildfire burns in heavy timber in a dense section of the Kootenai National Forest.
The Gibralter Ridge Fire sparked Monday night in the mountains east of Eureka and has burned 1,400 acres and is threatening structures and residences, according to fire officials.
At least 30 homes were evacuated Monday night and early Tuesday morning, according to the American Red Cross of Montana.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is notifying residents of immediate evacuation notices along five forest roads: Sherman Creek, Griffith Creek Road, Therriault Creek, Stevens Creek and the east end of Graves Creek Road. Authorities are going door-to-door to inform residents of the incident.
The Ten Lakes Scenic Area is closed and Graves Creek is closed at the Therriault Pass intersection. The eastern boundaries of Ten Lakes is closed at the Tuchuck Campground.
The American Red Cross and the Eureka community have opened a shelter at the First Church of God, 1295 2nd Ave. E. in Eureka, for those affected by the blaze.
Evacuees began arriving at the church shortly after 2 a.m., according to Red Cross volunteer and disaster action team lead Lora Ercanbrack. About a dozen people are currently staying at the church.
Ercanbrack is based in Libby and arrived early Tuesday with supplies. She said the Red Cross is ready to house and feed evacuees as long as necessary. There is a dog park near the shelter for clients’ dogs, and volunteers are helping haul livestock to safe areas. The local fairgrounds is also open to accommodate animals.
On Tuesday afternoon, T.J. Comstock arrived from Eureka Hardware with donated box fans and bottled water.
“You really see the best of people in these situations,” Ercanbrack said.
The Gibralter Ridge Fire is the largest of many incidents in the Eureka area. A Type II incident management team was slated to take command of the Gibralter blaze Tuesday night, while local resources tackled the fire throughout the day after it grew rapidly overnight and actively burned in thick timber. Early Tuesday afternoon, planes dropped fire retardant and water on the fire within sight of Glen Lake Drive.
Marty Shenfield, a Calgary resident with a home on Glen Lake Drive, said he was notified Monday night of a possible evacuation. Shenfield’s 19-year-old son Tristan said he was able to see flames from their house a few miles away overnight.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the fire and we’ll move when we have to,” Shenfield said, “maybe even sooner.”
Lincoln County Sheriff Sgt. Brandon Holzer was called to the scene of the fire late Monday and said the evacuation was prompted by stiff winds.
“There was so much ash coming down it looked like it was snowing,” he said.
A significant amount of lightning swept across Northwest Montana late Aug. 7 followed by high winds and fire crews are responding to various smoke reports, from Lincoln County to Glacier National Park.
National Park Service crews are responding to a fire near Snyder Lake. By Tuesday afternoon it had burned one-quarter of an acre.
Tinderbox conditions are plaguing the region, creating high fire danger.
“These are extreme fire conditions,” Janette Turk, spokesperson with Flathead National Forest, said.
July produced barely 0.07 inches of rainfall in Kalispell, making it the fourth driest on record, while West Glacier received an unmeasurable trace, making it the second driest on record, according to the National Weather Service.
Strict fire restrictions are in place across Western Montana, prohibiting campfires and internal combustion engines without a spark arrestor in the outdoors. Stage II restrictions mean people are prohibited from using motorized vehicles on or off road; operating any internal combustion engines during certain hours; having a fire of any kind, smoking or using fireworks.
Smoke continues to smother the region due to surrounding blazes. Several large fires are burning near Seeley Lake and across British Columbia, which is experiencing its worst fire season since 1958. The smoke has prompted air quality warnings in recent days.
This story will be updated when more information becomes available.